‘If I’m not safe here, you’re not safe here.’
Jonathan seemed to examine the floor tiles closely. ‘I won’t be safe anywhere, Vincent. You, on the other hand, out of sight, out of mind, you might have a chance.’
Vincent picked up the basketball and tossed it from hand to hand, never worried that he’d miss, trusting muscle memory he had no memory of muscling.
Indifference from the other Phoenix agents he could handle. For whatever relationship he’d had with Williams, Paulson and Honeycutt before – though he was getting the impression the departments here worked largely as independent silos, even more so than standard department-separated Agencies – they seemed to be distancing themselves as much as they could from all the fallout of ex-Dickrector Victor’s mess.
And the last two pieces of that mess should have stuck together, and now Jonathan was throwing him away to-
‘Where the fuck am I even going?’ He tossed the basketball over his shoulder, hoping for a no-scope-too-cool-for-school three-pointer, but heard it bounce uselessly off the backboard.
‘Brisbane,’ Jonathan said. ‘Their director spoke with Adams earlier.’
Vincent took his eyes off Jonathan and searched for the city on his phone. ‘Okay, San Francisco, you-’
‘No,’ Jonathan faltered, ‘not that one. Australia. With shifting and fading and fairy stairs, distance really means little, but- I want you as far away as you can be. I’m a danger to you, and I cannot permit that.’
‘Do I get any choice in this?’ He tried to keep the bitterness from his voice, tried to- Jonathan was hurting, that was clear from how intensely he was studying the floor, how the agent wouldn’t meet his gaze, but…‘I don’t want to go.’
Phoenix didn’t feel like home, even after weeks of doing nothing but staring at walls, hoping for even a wisp of memory to plant itself like a half-dead seed, even after wishing on stars and trying stupid hypnosis videos he’d found online, there was nothing.
Nothing from his old life existed, but he didn’t want to throw away what he’d gained.
Didn’t want to leave the fragile man in front of him alone, vulnerable, and where Victor could get to him.
Whether it was Duty, some remnant of their friendship showing itself as vibes or part of his natural personality showing itself, he wanted to protect. And with no civilians around to save, no fae to pull away from Solstice, Jonathan was his only target.
And the prince was trying to send his knight away because the dragon was too scary.
‘I don’t want to go,’ he snapped and hated that Jonathan flinched from the volume in his voice. ‘It’s my life, and I get some choice in it.’
‘You’ve got to go. Joel-’ Jonathan straightened, looked at him, and didn’t hide the fact that he was crying. ‘He killed Joel. And that death is on my hands. Please. I can’t lose you too.’
‘I can’t help- I can’t protect you if you fuck me off to live with the kangaroos and whatever other shit they have over there. Down there. Wherever there is.’
Jonathan wiped his face with a handkerchief. ‘I’m going to try and not need protection, actually.’ He walked over to the bleachers where he’d left his things and came back with a brown folder. ‘You’re not an agent, so you’ve got no idea what this is.’ He offered the folder, which Vincent declined to take. ‘There are three ways to leave the Agency. You can die, you can fall, or you can be dismissed.’
Immediately Vincent wanted to call bullshit. Recruits could leave the Agency, and that was normal, you didn’t even – normally – need to put in your two weeks’ notice. But agents…didn’t get to do that.
There were some jobs, he’d gathered from his poke-at-the-intranet research that amounted to retirement or were the closest thing that the Agency had. Jobs that could have been done by a sim, or an algorithm. Busy work and meaningless work that had few if any KPIs or oversight.
Old-as-balls agents who minded archives, processed and logged decades-old evidence, or worked in and around the internal schooling system for the children of Agency personnel.
Jonathan opened the folder and showed off a piece of paper signed in metallic ink. Fancy.
‘This gives me full permission to go live as a human, should I wish it. Limited requiring licenses, but enough to ensure that I could have anything and everything I could ever want. A residence wheresoever in the world I could wish. Freedom.’
‘Sweet deal,’ Vincent said mildly and retrieved his basketball.
‘It’s useless to me.’ He closed the folder and held it to his chest. ‘Vincent, I don’t have a favourite food,’ he said, quietly, shame heavy in his voice, his eyes averted. ‘I am aware that Victor did some things to my code, and Paulson, along with the team Adams assigned from Central, are working to see what can be fixed, and if there is anything dangerous…’
Jonathan was quiet for a long moment. ‘It’s not all-’ His breath hitched. ‘Just in my blue.’ He stared down at the floor. ‘Space and solitude would not serve me, so while this writ is generous, and I wish I could convey the rarity of it, it’s useless to me.’
‘So what are you going to do?’
Phoenix was slowly coming back to life, or was about to be reborn, as might be a more fitting metaphor, but he couldn’t imagine Jonathan integrated with a slate of new recruits, or new-and-old recruits, as some of the old guard were interested in retaking their positions.
However much he knew Phoenix was going to become a fully functional Agency again, all he could imagine was Jonathan continuing to walk deserted halls. Halls that wouldn’t even be filled with dime-store pranks anymore if he wasn’t around.
‘I’ve asked for a position in Director Adams’ headquarters. It’s a regional office, and there’s always busy work to be done. For what I am right now, how I am, a cubical and several million files to tag and review seems like a blessing.’ Jonathan attempted a smile. ‘You need more though. You’re a good recruit, Vincent. Even if I denied you the precise score you so coveted, you’ve got empirical proof of it. Go out there and do good. Please.’
Jonathan’s “please” came out like a prayer, and he found himself unable to say no.
It wasn’t the best plan. It might not even be a good plan. But it was a direction he was willing to follow if it gave his only friend some peace.
Vincent gently lobbed the ball to Jonathan. ‘All right. Tell me about these criminals and koala-lovers.’